Vital, thorough, and light of touch: rays of hope play against an admonitory tale of habitat and perhaps even species...



Well-synthesized portrait of the rare, possibly extinct bird from one of its greatest admirers.

In 1973, on the Noxubee River just inside the Alabama border, ornithologist Jackson thought he saw an ivory-billed woodpecker. By then, he had followed the ivory-billed trail for close to a decade, and he would go on for another 30 years to explore the bird’s former haunts in the river bottoms and adjacent uplands of Georgia’s Okefenokee Swamp, Florida’s Fakahatchee Stand, the Big Thicket of Texas, Mississippi’s Yazoo, and on over to Cuba, where in 1988 Jackson had two possible sightings and a number of clear audibles. Here, with an enthusiasm that keeps clear of obsession, the author gathers a goodly amount of the available documentation on the ivory-billed: its undulating, jerky flight; its call, once described as “the burry reed notes of the bagpipe”; its diet, clutch size, and anatomy; its range and predilection for specific habitats. To these nuts and bolts of good natural history, Jackson adds a human touch with a swath of anecdotal material. He provides small-scope biographies of well-known bird folk—among them, Mark Catesby, Alexander Wilson, John James Audubon—and their relationships with the ivory-billed; students of the bird, Arthur Allen and James Tanner in particular, get more extensive backgrounders. Jackson examines the ivory-billed’s iconic status, from trade and use by native populations to its employment on stamps and whiskey decanters. The author argues persuasively that we should not assume the bird is extinct in the US, citing its rarity, wariness, potential quietude (though it can also be a yapper), long lifespan, and the remoteness of its preferred nesting sites as possible reasons for the lack of documented sightings over the past 60 years.

Vital, thorough, and light of touch: rays of hope play against an admonitory tale of habitat and perhaps even species destruction. (30 halftones)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2004

ISBN: 1-58834-132-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2004

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Whether you call this a personal story or nature writing, it’s poignant, thoughtful and moving—and likely to become a...

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An inspired, beautiful and absorbing account of a woman battling grief—with a goshawk.

Following the sudden death of her father, Macdonald (History and Philosophy/Cambridge Univ.; Falcon, 2006, etc.) tried staving off deep depression with a unique form of personal therapy: the purchase and training of an English goshawk, which she named Mabel. Although a trained falconer, the author chose a raptor both unfamiliar and unpredictable, a creature of mad confidence that became a means of working against madness. “The hawk was everything I wanted to be: solitary, self-possessed, free from grief, and numb to the hurts of human life,” she writes. As a devotee of birds of prey since girlhood, Macdonald knew the legends and the literature, particularly the cautionary example of The Once and Future King author T.H. White, whose 1951 book The Goshawk details his own painful battle to master his title subject. Macdonald dramatically parallels her own story with White’s, achieving a remarkable imaginative sympathy with the writer, a lonely, tormented homosexual fighting his own sadomasochistic demons. Even as she was learning from White’s mistakes, she found herself very much in his shoes, watching her life fall apart as the painfully slow bonding process with Mabel took over. Just how much do animals and humans have in common? The more Macdonald got to know her, the more Mabel confounded her notions about what the species was supposed to represent. Is a hawk a symbol of might or independence, or is that just our attempt to remake the animal world in our own image? Writing with breathless urgency that only rarely skirts the melodramatic, Macdonald broadens her scope well beyond herself to focus on the antagonism between people and the environment.

Whether you call this a personal story or nature writing, it’s poignant, thoughtful and moving—and likely to become a classic in either genre.

Pub Date: March 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0802123411

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2014

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An authoritative, engaging study of plant life, accessible to younger readers as well as adults.


A neurobiologist reveals the interconnectedness of the natural world through stories of plant migration.

In this slim but well-packed book, Mancuso (Plant Science/Univ. of Florence; The Revolutionary Genius of Plants: A New Understanding of Plant Intelligence and Behavior, 2018, etc.) presents an illuminating and surprisingly lively study of plant life. He smoothly balances expansive historical exploration with recent scientific research through stories of how various plant species are capable of migrating to locations throughout the world by means of air, water, and even via animals. They often continue to thrive in spite of dire obstacles and environments. One example is the response of plants following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Three decades later, the abandoned “Exclusion Zone” is now entirely covered by an enormous assortment of thriving plants. Mancuso also tracks the journeys of several species that might be regarded as invasive. “Why…do we insist on labeling as ‘invasive’ all those plants that, with great success, have managed to occupy new territories?” asks the author. “On a closer look, the invasive plants of today are the native flora of the future, just as the invasive species of the past are a fundamental part of our ecosystem today.” Throughout, Mancuso persuasively articulates why an understanding and appreciation of how nature is interconnected is vital to the future of our planet. “In nature everything is connected,” he writes. “This simple law that humans don’t seem to understand has a corollary: the extinction of a species, besides being a calamity in and of itself, has unforeseeable consequences for the system to which the species belongs.” The book is not without flaws. The loosely imagined watercolor renderings are vague and fail to effectively complement Mancuso’s richly descriptive prose or satisfy readers’ curiosity. Even without actual photos and maps, it would have been beneficial to readers to include more finely detailed plant and map renderings.

An authoritative, engaging study of plant life, accessible to younger readers as well as adults.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-63542-991-6

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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